Death of the Dunk Contest? Stop it…


I’m obsessed with dunk contests, so it pains my heart to watch another mediocre contest like the one over the weekend. But rather than joining the masses and complaining with no solutions, I’ve decided to come up with my own ways to improve the NBA Dunk Contest. My credentials, you ask? I’ve watched every NBA, college, and high school dunk contest imaginable and was once a judge during the dunk contest of a high school All-Star game. I also produced enough of my own dunk contests on a Fisher-Price hoop as a kid in the basement of my Dad’s house to know what I’m doing. See, Grandma, judging all of those basement dunk contests featuring everyone from Detlef Schrempf to Mark Price to Michael Jordan finally paid off!

I got a little fed up as I started reading Twitter after Saturday night’s NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest — officially known as the Sprite Slam Dunk. Twitter can enhance or ruin any live television production, and for this year’s Sprite Slam Dunk — which everyone would agree was subpar — it just made a bad show that much worse.

Tweet after tweet echoed similar sentiments:

“Worst dunk contest ever.”

“No superstars.”


Instant overreaction happens with live events every year — and in particular the dunk contest. For whatever reason, people get snobby about dunks even though 95% of the world’s population could never dunk a regulation basketball on a 10-foot rim.

The big problem is, nobody comes up with proper solutions to fix these problems and we’re left to hear complaints year-after-year.

After listening to Charles Barkley rant once again about the lack of superstars after this year’s dunk contest (he was cut-off mid-sentence and I haven’t found video), I found that had a roundtable discussion about ways to improve the dunk contest, hosted by Ernie Johnson, and featuring Shaq, Barkley, Chris Webber, Kenny Smith, Reggie “Bleacher Report” Miller and Steve Kerr.

The takeaways from the “experts” (paraphrasing) with my thoughts:

Shaq: Dunks need to be completed in one take – For once, Shaq is actually on to something. The best dunk contest dunkers put down their first (or maybe second if it’s a botched self alley-oop) dunk and leave an immediate lasting impression on everybody involved. See: Carter, Vince.

Barkley: The best players need to play – Wrong, Charles, the best DUNKERS need to be involved. It certainly helps to have superstars in the dunk contest to appeal to the casual fan, but this contest also gives young guys a chance to shine and and become superstars during the contest. Blake Griffin was having a fantastic rookie season and had already made the All-Star team as a reserve when he won the dunk contest in 2011, but dunking over a Kia made Griffin a superstar. Nate Robinson and Spud Webb aren’t superstars, but their status as icons in the dunk contest were cemented because they were given the chance to shine. If the dunk contest can strike a happy medium between young guns and superstars, it would be perfect for the league.

Webber: Get the shoe companies involved – Listen, Chris, just because you made the idiotic decision to rep Dada as your shoe company doesn’t mean you can suck up to adidas and Nike by name-dropping them on

Smith: Guys aren’t competitive enough – Kenny Smith arguing about competitive nature was an interesting part of this. Kenny’s main point was that if anybody challenged him to a dunk contest — whether it was a neighborhood rival or fellow NBA player — he would want to prove he was the best. He has a point, a lot of these guys just don’t seem to have the fire to prove that they’re the best dunkers.

Miller & others: Get Blake Griffin, LeBron James and Dwight Howard – Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard have proven they can compete in an NBA dunk contest but I’ve always wondered how LeBron would do in the dunk contest? LeBron’s dunks at the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest in 2003 were above-average but nothing spectacular and maybe he just sees that other guys are better contest dunkers.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Shawn Kemp was a phenomenal in-game dunker, but incredibly mediocre in dunk contests, and the same could be said about others as well. Being an awesome in-game dunker doesn’t necessarily translate to out of game contests. Maybe this is the case for LeBron? I’m not sure, and we’ll probably never know.

Kerr: More white guys need to be involved – I made this up. I just felt bad Steve Kerr was never mentioned or acknowledged in this video.

Other personal suggestions to improve the contest:

  • Abandon the time limit, the dumb “participant sits on the box and the referee hands him the ball” moment that makes absolutely zero sense, and give each guy one dunk attempt. ONLY one dunk attempt.
  • Eliminate guys like Shaq from the commentary. Shaq trolling all the participants during the contest isn’t going to help get elite players to enter the event. You think agents, friends and teammates are going to talk people into entering the dunk contest knowing that if they fail they are going to be completely ridiculed by their own in-house NBA production?
  • Force each All-Star team to select two of its own to compete in the contest. Think of how the National League and American League do this for the Home Run Derby. Same concept.
  • Give the All-Stars some competition in the form of role players and young guys. You think an All-Star wants to lose to Jeremy Evans? Think Jeremy Evans wants to prove himself against an All-Star? I think eight participants (four All-Stars, four reserves/young guys) is perfect. Extra motivation never hurts…
  • Bring back the house lights. I know it looks cooler to dim the lights and put a bunch of spotlights on the dunker — and it makes Kia commercials look better — but it’s gotta be insanely tough on the dunkers. These guys have the pressure of performing some of the most difficult dunks ever attempted, on live television, in front of their peers and celebrities, and they have to do it with odd lighting and crazy production value? One of my favorite moments of the Vince Carter contest is the entire crowd’s reaction after his first dunk. The house lights are on, and you can instantly see everyone in the crowd stand, throw up the “10” score, and drop their jaws in pure astonishment. This reaction can’t be achieved with the Staples Center Lakers’ game lighting going on.

So based on my parameters, I would have had the following participants this year:

LeBron James and Paul George repping the East.

Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook repping the West. (I gave Dwight Howard off because of his back issue. And, also, Dwight Howard is a douche.)

Jeremy Evans (defending champ), Terrence Ross, Gerald Green and James White repping the other four spots.

C’mon, like you’re not interested in that lineup?


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